Eye For Film >> Movies >> Taste Of Cement (2017) Film Review
Taste Of Cement
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Construction and destruction are the twin poles of Ziad Kalthoum's meditation on exile, which employs silence as much as sound to give the viewer time to think about the continuum between the two opposites.
Building is represented in concrete fashion by the vertiginous skyscrapers under construction in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. Cinematographer Talal Khoury lets his camera roam the construction site in a measured manner that recalls James Benning, sea glittering in the distance, as the building takes shape. It is one of a host to go up since the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990, as the country physically rebuilds itself.
The architectural space already feels like limbo, the workers apparently sleeping in the half-finished basement before climbing up to the site itself - a place which is in the city and from which you can see the city and yet not of the city, instead feeling one-step removed. There's a feeling of Escher-like monotony and a displacement that takes on additional emotional resonance when we come to realise that most of the workers here are Syrian - and operating under a curfew that means they can't leave the site after 7pm at night.
The voiceover of a male builder, who remains anonymous throughout, contemplates his own childhood in Syria, recalling his father - also a builder who had been a migrant worker in Beirut - bringing back a poster of palm trees and the sea, an image that will act as a repeated reference point. He also recollects a conversation, during which his dad told him that when bombs start to fall, builders go somewhere that war has just finished.
It is this deep irony that percolates through the movie, the builders reconstructing Lebanon by day, only to watch their homeland being destroyed by bombs in their off hours. This, we can see, is a different type of bombardment. They may not be threatened physically, but emotionally they are operating under a constant barrage of bad news. The Syrians seem almost monastic in their existence, sleeping on rolled out card, moving around almost silently - although this is no doubt emphasised by Alex Bakri and Frank Brummundt's editing.
When the sound arrives it is intense, the noise of construction and the unmistakable clatter of war, acting along with heartbreaking visuals of the aftermath of a bombing, as an attack on the senses after the quietude of what has gone before. We're left not just with the taste of cement but with a series of unpleasant truths about the cyclical nature of war and its impact that feel as though they have been set in it.Reviewed on: 24 Mar 2018
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